GiorgioneHe is called Zorzi or Zorzo (Venetian dialect for ‘Giorgio’) da Castelfranco in contemporary documents. Vasari says he was born in ‘1478 when Doge Mocenigo was Doge of Venice’ and he was known as ‘Giorgione’ (‘Big George’) because of ‘his stature and greatness of mind’. There seems no truth to the tradition, mentioned by Ridolfi (1648) and often repeated, that he belonged to the noble Barbarella family. His surname seems to have been Gasparini and his origins were probably modest. An inscription of 1506 on the back of the Laura in Vienna states that he was sharing a studio with Vincenzo Catena. In 1507-8 he painted a canvas for the Sala dell’Udienza (Audience Chamber) of the Doge’s Palace (destroyed by fire in 1574 or 1577), and in 1508 he was working with Titian on frescoes on the exterior of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi on the Grand Canal (only a few half-effaced fragments of which remain). A letter of 7 November 1510 from Taddeo Albano to Isabella d’Este (who was anxious to acquire a painting by him) states that he had died several days earlier of the plague. He died on the island of Lazzaretto Nuovo, where plague victims were quarantined, and his belongings were valued at a mere eighty-nine ducats.
Almost nothing else is known of Giorgione’s life. Apart from the fragments from the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, there are no completely documented works. The main basis of attributions is the manuscript notes of the Venetian aristocrat Marcantonio Michiel (dated between 1525 and 1543), which list sixteen paintings by Giorgione in Venetian collections. Of these sixteen paintings, only three can be positively identified: theTempest in Venice, the Three Philosophers (finished by Sebastiano del Piombo according to Michiel) in Vienna, and the Sleeping Venus (finished by Titian according to Michiel) in Dresden. As a major masterpiece that has always been in the town from which Giorgione is known to have come, the Castelfranco Altarpiece has never been questioned, although it is mentioned only since the mid-seventeenth century. The
Laura in Vienna and the Terris Portrait in San Diego are identified as Giorgione’s by inscriptions. To these half-dozen works, a nearly unanimous consensus of opinion has added the Judith in St Petersburg and – more recently – the Col Tempo in Venice. The many other paintings that have been attributed to Giorgione must be considered to be subject to dispute. What is not in doubt is Giorgione’s importance for the history of Venetian painting.
Giorgione’s work was novel in both technique and subject. Rejecting the hard contours of Bellini and his followers, he perfected a softer and more delicate style of modelling in oil – an innovation that Vasari attributed to his study of Leonardo’s works. He also seems to have been the first Venetian artist to specialise in the painting of small pictures for private collectors rather than for churches. He created the poesie: a picture of poetical mood and elusive meaning with figures in a landscape.
Sebastiano del Piombo and Titian were Giorgione’s pupils or associates, and for a time both were profoundly influenced by him. Many lesser artists (including Giorgione’s partner Vincenzo Catena and assistants Francesco Torbido and Morto da Feltre, Giovanni Cariani, Bernardo Licinio, the engraver Giulio Campagnola, the shadowy Domenico Mancini, and the Lombard-born Giovanni Agostino da Lodi) also worked in a Giorgionesque vein. To compound the difficulties of attribution, Giorgione’s paintings were imitated, copied and forged well into the seventeenth century.
Portrait of a Young Man. Canvas, 58 x 46.
The young man, wearing a quilted doublet that is now lilac but may originally have been red, gazes rather timidly at the spectator, his foreshortened right hand resting on the stepped parapet. From the Giustiniani collection in Padua, where it was described as a work of Sebastiano del Piombo. Bought in 1884 by the German art historian and dealer Jean Paul Richter, who sold it to the Berlin Museum in 1891. The attribution to Giorgione was made by Richter’s friend Giovanni Morelli (in a letter dated 25 November 1887). Although lacking any support from documentary evidence or old traditions, the attribution was almost universal until comparatively recently. However, the near consensus has now been broken, with a number of writers (including Joannides (2001)) preferring an attribution to the youthful Titian. The recent tendency, among those writers accepting the Giorgione attribution, has been to date the portrait very early (before 1500). The letters 'VV' on the parapet appear to have been added or repainted by a restorer. Their significance (assuming they replicate an original inscription) is unclear: it has been variously suggested that they may be the initials of the artist, the initials of the sitter, the initials of Vivus Vivo (indicating that the portrait was painted from life) or the initials of a motto such as Vanitas Vanitatum or Virtus Vincit.
Brunswick. Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum.
Self-Portrait. Canvas, 52 x 43.
Possibly the self–portrait of Giorgione recorded in 1528 in the Palazzo Grimani in the Campo Santo Maria Formosa, and later described there by Vasari: ‘The portrait represents David, who is depicted with wonderful vigour and realism. His breast is protected by armour as is the arm with which he holds the severed head of Goliath’. Wenzel Hollar engraved the portrait in 1650 when it was in the van Verle collection at Antwerp. The Brunswick picture omits the head of Goliath, but it could have been cut down after 1650 because the bottom part was damaged or the severed head was considered gruesome. Acquired by the Duke of Brunswick in 1737 as a self-portrait of Raphael, and later attributed to Dosso Dossi. Critical opinion has been divided on whether it is Giorgione’s damaged original or a copy. The case for it being the original is enhanced by X-ray evidence, published in 1957, which reveals that it was painted over an unfinished Madonna very like ones by Vincenzo Catena, who is known (from the inscription on the back of the Vienna Laura) to have shared a studio with Giorgione. There are other versions at Budapest (showing only the head and shoulders) and in the British royal collection (showing the whole composition, including Goliath’s head).
Budapest. Museum of Fine Arts.
Portrait of a Young Man (Antonio Brocardo?). Canvas, 73 x 54.
The youthful sitter is sometimes called Antonio Brocardo from a half-effaced unoriginal inscription. Brocardo (c.1500-31) was a poet, best known for a literary controversy with Pietro Bembo, who is said to have died of rage after Pietro Aretino slandered him in a sonnet. Giorgione cannot have painted his portrait, as he would have been only a child when the painter died in 1510. The sitter has been alternatively identified as Vittore Cappello of Treviso from the hat (cappello) and the three-faced woman (tre viso) inset on the parapet. This atmospheric and beautiful portrait is thought to have been bought in Venice in the 1820s by János László Pyrker, Patriach of Aquileia, who left it to the museum in 1836 as a work of Orazio Vecellio (Titian’s son and collaborator). An attribution to Giorgione was suggested in 1884 by Moritz Thausig and influentially endorsed by Morelli and Berenson. It has been retained by the museum, but has had only limited support in the Giorgione literature over the past forty or fifty years. Alternative attributions have been made to Bernardo Licinio, Titian, Pordenone, Vittore Belliniano and (perhaps most often) Giovanni Cariani. X-rays have revealed that there was originally a window in the top left corner, giving a view of mountains and sky. The paint surface is somewhat abraded and retouched.
Birth of Paris. Canvas, 91 x 63.
A fragment of a much larger composition of ‘a landscape with the birth of Paris and two shepherds standing by’ noted by Marcantonio Michiel in 1525 in the house of Taddeo Contarini. The fragment shows the two shepherds and, at the bottom left edge, part of the child’s head. The full composition is recorded by an engraving by Kassel in Tenier’s Theatrum Pictorium (1659). The Budapest fragment was discovered in 1880 by Giovanni Morelli, who believed that it had been cut from Giorgione’s original painting. Most subsequent critics (beginning with Berenson in 1897) have considered it a copy. The apparent crudeness in the execution, particularly of the figures (described by Berenson as ‘so lifeless, so stupid, so uncouth’), may be due partly to repainting. Bequeathed to the museum in 1836 as a work of Titian.
Castelfranco Altarpiece. Wood, 200 x 152.
The Madonna is enthroned on an extraordinarily high marble pedestal, isolated against a landscape, with a view of Castelfranco upper left. The saint in shining armour, wearing a helmet and holding a banner of the Order of the Knights of St John, is often identified as Liberale (patron of the Cathedral) and sometimes as St Nicasio (a martyr saint of the Knights of St John), but Ridolfi calls him St George. St Francis, pointing to the scar in his side and showing the wound in his hand, is a quotation (in reverse) from Giovanni Bellini’s San Giobbe Altarpiece. Prominent on the plinth is the escutcheon (a prancing lion above six rib bones) of the Costanzo family of Messina who settled in Castelfranco in the 1490s, probably arriving there in the retinue of Caterina Cornaro. The altarpiece originally hung in the funerary chapel, dedicated to St George, of Tuzio Costanzo on the right side of the atrium of the old church of San Liberale. The chapel, which was decorated with Renaissance frescoes, was demolished in the mid-eighteenth century, and the altarpiece was moved to the new Cathedral. The altarpiece is often supposed to have been commissioned by Tuzio in memory of his son Matteo, who died in battle at Ravenna and whose tombstone is in the chapel (now placed on the floor but originally on a wall). The tombstone bears the date August 1504, which is sometimes taken as the likely date of the altarpiece. However, the traditional tempera technique and stylistic dependence on Bellini suggests that the picture could be even earlier (about 1500?). Although the earliest mention of the picture is by Ridolfi in 1648, the attribution to Giorgione has never been questioned. It is Giorgione’s only surviving altarpiece. It has suffered badly from flaking, possibly because it hung originally in direct sunlight, and has been restored on at least nine occasions (the earliest in 1635 and the latest in 2002). The upper-right landscape and parts of both saints (including St George’s head) are particularly damaged. The altarpiece, which was stolen in 1972, has usually to be viewed from a distance through a grille.
Sleeping Venus. Canvas (transferred from panel), 109 x 175.
The Venus, whose pose derives from an antique Venus Pudica, sleeps peacefully on a bed of deep red and white satin drapery. Restoration in 1843 revealed a Cupid by her feet, holding a bird in his left hand and an arrow in his right, which was subsequently overpainted again. Acquired by King Augustus of Saxony in 1699. Recorded as by Giorgione in a catalogue of 1707, but re-ascribed to Titian in 1722 and later regarded as a copy by Sassoferrato after Titian. Identified by Morelli in 1880 as the ‘nude Venus sleeping in a landscape with Cupid’ seen by Michiel in 1525 in the house of Geronimo Marcello at San Tomado in Venice. Michiel says that the landscape and Cupid were finished by Titian. There are differences of view about the extent of Titian’s intervention. While Michiel says that Titian only finished the landscape, there has been a tendency to assume that he painted it all. A few writers (starting with Louis Hourticq in 1930) have even suggested that he painted or repainted the whole picture. The group of rustic buildings on the right is also included in Titian’s Noli me Tangere in London and (with less precision and reversed) in the Borghese Sacred and Profane Love. The Venus was possibly a marriage-picture intended for a couple’s bedroom. It has sometimes been linked with Marcello’s marriage in October 1507 to Morosina Pisani. However, if it was left unfinished at Giorgione’s untimely death, it is unlikely to have been started before 1510. The picture became the prototype of numerous sleeping and reclining nudes by Palma, Titian and other Venetian artists in the first half of the sixteenth century. Much damaged, restoration concealing numerous paint losses.
Edinburgh. National Gallery of Scotland.
An Archer. Wood, 54 x 42.
The young man, seen from the side, turns to face us, as though about to speak, while placing a gloved hand on his breastplate. He is identified as an archer by his leather glove (which protects his index finger but leaves his thumb and other fingers bare). The picture, now very shadowy, is damaged, worn and much restored. Nothing is known of its history before it entered the collection of Mary Hamilton Campbell (Lady Ruthven), a painter and patron of the arts in Scotland, who bequeathed it to the gallery in 1885 as a work of Giorgione. Subsequent attributions were made to a number of Giorgionesque painters (including Giovanni Cariani, Calisto Piazza da Lodi and Francesco Torbido), but none won acceptance. An attribution to Giorgione has been recently accepted by a number of Italian art historians (including Alessandro Ballarin, in several publications, and Mauro Lucco in his 1995 monograph on the painter). The picture was included in the Age of Titian exhibition held at Edinburgh in 2004 and the In the Age of Giorgione exhibition held at the Royal Academy in 2016, and it was labelled as 'attributed to Giorgione' on both occasions. An inconclusive attempt has been made to identify the picture with the 'man with his hand reflected in his armour' recorded by Ridolfi (1648) as a work of Giorgione in the van Voert (or Veerle) collection at Amsterdam.
Judgement of Solomon. Wood, 89 x 72.
The subject is from the Old Testament (I KIngs: 3, 16-28). King Solomon, enthroned in judgement, orders the contested baby to be cut in half. The true mother pleads on her knees for the infant to be spared, while the lying woman, whose own baby lies dead on the ground, accepts the judgement. This small panel, and its pendant the Trial of Moses, are recorded (without attribution) in 1692 in an inventory of the Medici villa at Poggio Imperiale. They were transferred to the Uffizi in 1795 and attributed to Giorgione. Crowe and Cavalcaselle, who published the first critical account of Giorgione's oeuvre in their History of Painting in North Italy (1871), accepted the attribution but suggested that the paintings were very early works. However, even as youthful works, there is a certain naïviety in parts of the execution that made it hard for some art historians to accept the panels as fully autograph. The intervention of another artist was mooted. This hypothetical collaborator or assistant was variously identified as the painter and engraver Giulio Campagnola (by Fiocco in 1915), as Giorgione's partner Vincenzo Catena (Morassi in 1941) and as an 'unknown Ferrarese painter' (Longhi in 1946). However, the presence of Giorgione's own hand in the paintings has rarely been doubted. As noted by Franco Moro (Paragone (1989)), the landscapes and figure types resemble those in works by Giovanni Agostino da Lodi (Pseudo-Boccaccino), a Lombard painter who worked briefly in Venice.
Trial of Moses. Wood, 90 x 72.
The unusual subject is taken from the Talmud. The infant Moses, supported by his mother before the enthroned Pharaoh, is given the choice between dishes of fire and gold. He selects the latter and plays with the fire. The relief on the pedestal of the Pharoah's throne depicts Prometheus creating man out of clay. The backs of both Uffizi panels are decorated with floral arabesques.
Man in Armour with Squire ('Gattamelata and His Page'). Canvas, 90 x 73.
The portrait shows a melancholy young knight in black armour, holding up his broadsword like a cross and looking boldly back at the spectator. His helmet, spurs and flanged mace lie on the table in front of him. His squire appears in profile on the left, wearing neck armour (a bevor) and holding a jousting lance with red stripes. The knight was traditionally supposed to be the great condottiere Erasmo da Narni (Il Gattamelata), who died some seventy or eighty years before the portrait would have been painted. A more recent suggestion is that he could be Bartolomeo d'Alviano, who led the Venetians to victory at the Battle of Cadore in 1508 and was killed at the Siege of Brescia in 1515. The portrait entered the Uffizi in 1821, when there was an exchange of pictures with the Imperial Gallery at Vienna. It is recorded as a work of Giorgione in an inventory of 1825, but the attribution was questioned later in the nineteenth century. Of the many alternative attributions, one of the earliest and probably the most favoured has been that to Paolo Moranda (Cavazzola), a Giorgionesque painter from Verona. Other suggestions have included Michele da Verona, Francesco Torbido and Gian Francesco Caroto (all also from Verona), and the Brescian Girolamo Romanino. There was a revival in the traditional attribution to Giorgione after the War, when the influential Italian scholar Roberto Longhi published an opinion (in 1946) that the portrait might be an authentic late work of the artist. While there has been little serious recent support for such a view, the picture (with its atmospheric lighting, hint of mystery and evocation of inner melancholy) remains a famous example of the Giorgionesque portrait.
‘Three Ages of Man’. Wood, 62 x 77.
This famous painting appears to depict a trio of singers, consisting perhaps of a tenor (the young man in profile on the right beating time or pointing to the sheet of music), an alto (the youth in the centre holding the music) and a bass (the old man on the left turning to face the viewer). It has been identified with a painting, described as ‘Marcus Aurelius studying with two philosophers’ and attributed to Palma Vecchio, recorded in 1666 in the Venetian collection of the Flemish painter and merchant Niccolò Renieri. It is first certainly documented in a Medici inventory of 1698, when it is unattributed, described as being in ‘a most beautiful Lombard style’, and called the ‘Three Ages of Man’. It was first ascribed to Giorgione in 1799-1815, when it was exhibited in Paris among the Napoleonic plunder from Italy. It has subsequently experienced a remarkable range of attributions to major and minor Venetian artists. Crowe and Cavalcaselle (who gave the first authoritative account of Giorgione’s oeuvre) and Bode thought it was by Lotto, a view that was accepted at one time by the official catalogue. Morelli gave it to Giorgione. Gronau suggested Morto da Feltre, on the basis of a similarity between the man on the right and the figure of a saint in an altarpiece at Berlin. Fiocco proposed another minor artist, Torbido of Verona. At one time Berenson favoured the elderly Giovanni Bellini, but late in his career he changed his mind to ‘early Giorgione’. Some writers have consigned the painting to an anonymous Venetian (‘Master of the Pitti Three Ages’). But the Giorgione attribution has become increasingly widely accepted. It has been suggested that the man in profile on the right is a portrait of the same man as the seated of the Three Philosophers in Vienna. The painting, which has been seriously damaged by old restorations, was cleaned in 1989. Technical analysis (infra-red reflectography) has revealed a sketch for a Giorgionesque Nativity beneath the paint layer. The influence of Leonardo da Vinci, who visited Venice in 1499-1500, has been seen both in the sfumato effects (softening of contours by subtle gradations of colour and tone) and the facial types (the head of the man on the right has been compared with the St Philip in the Last Supper).
Glasgow. Gallery and Museum.
Christ and the Adulteress. Canvas, 139 x 182.
The picture has been cut down on the right, removing most of the standing male figure (soldier?), whose head and shoulders survive as a fragment (47 x 41) in the gallery. Possibly the Adulteress by Giorgione mentioned as for sale in a letter of 1612 by Camillo Sordi to Francesco Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua. First certainly recorded (attributed to Giorgione) in the 1689 inventory of Queen Christina of Sweden. The old attribution was doubted by Crowe and Cavalcaselle (who suggested Cariani), Lionello Venturi (Sebastiano) and Adolfo Venturi (Romanino). Longhi proposed Titian and Zampetti suggested the rather obscure Domenico Mancini. In the course of his long career, Berenson attributed the picture successively to Cariani, Sebastiano, Titian and Giorgione. In more recent years, the attribution to Titian, as a very early work of around 1508-10, has attracted majority support. It is accepted, for example, by Peter Humfrey in his 2012 catalogue of Italian paintings in the Glasgow museums. The main part of the picture was bequeathed to the Corporation of Glasgow with the collection of Archibald McLellan in 1854, while the fragment of a man’s head was not acquired by the gallery until 1971, when it was auctioned at Sotheby’s. The complete composition is known through a replica, sometimes ascribed to Cariani, at Bergamo.
London. National Gallery.
Adoration of the Magi. Wood, 29 x 81.
Possibly a panel from a predella (although it was already rare for Venetian altarpieces to have predellas by this time). First recorded, attributed to Giovanni Bellini, in the Miles collection at Leigh Court (near Bristol). In 1880, Giovanni Morelli declared it to be by Vincenzo Catena – an attribution that was repeated for decades (eg. in Berenson’s 1894-1936 Lists). It was acquired, still as a Bellini, by the National Gallery in 1884, but catalogued as Giorgione from 1889. The picture is one of the so-called ‘Allendale Group’, which also includes the ‘Allendale Nativity’ and the ‘Benson Holy Family’ (both now in Washington). The three pictures have been variously attributed over the years to an unknown ‘Beaumont Master’, Catena, Cariani or Bonifazio, but are now more usually accepted as early works of Giorgione.
‘Il Tramonto’. Canvas, 73 x 92.
Discovered, probably in 1931-2, in a storeroom of the Villa Garzone at Pontecasale by Giulio Lorenzetti, Director of the Museo Correr. The painting was in a very bad condition: there was a hole in the lower right of the canvas, surrounded by flaking paint, and also considerable paint loss in the trees on the left and the rocks in the upper right. After some restoration, the painting was bought in 1933 by a young Russian dealer Vitale Bloch. He had it more radically restored in Rome and then exported it to England (as a picture by Campagnola). Roberto Longhi, who may have been a partner with Bloch in the purchase, was responsible both for the attribution to Giorgione and for the title Il Tramonto, meaning ‘Sunset’ (Officina Ferrarese (1934)). The painting remained unseen in a London bank vault until 1955, when it was loaned to the Giorgione exhibition in Venice. It was sold by Bloch to the National Gallery in 1961, when it was restored for a third time. Restorers have imaginatively reconstructed the damaged area on the right. The group in the middle distance of St George slaying the dragon is complete fabrication. The ‘hermit’ on the far right (sometimes identified as St Anthony Abbot) is repainted and the pig below him is an invention. The amorphous creature in the middle of the lake was added in 1961 by the National Gallery’s restorer. However, the two men seated in the centre (which have been variously identified as Gothardus tending the ulcer on St Roch’s thigh, St Anthony of Padua healing the leg of a youth, Philoctetes and Neoptolemus on Lemnos, or the Good Samaritan tending the man who had fallen among thieves) are genuine, as is the beaked monster emerging from the left edge of the lake. The landscape background, with minutely-painted distant blue hills and picturesque farmhouses, is largely trustworthy, and has parallels with the landscapes of Giorgione’s secure works, such as the Castelfranco Altarpiece and Three Philosophers.
‘Homage to a Poet’. Wood, 60 x 49.
The subject is obscure and the present title dates only from 1959. The picture was called ‘King David instructing a Pious Man in His Devotions’ and ‘Solomon instructing Youth’ in the early nineteenth century, when it was exhibited as a work of Giorgione in London. Since its acquisition by the National Gallery in 1885, it has been catalogued as ‘School’, ‘Studio’ or ‘Imitator of Giorgione’. However, a number of Italian critics (including Mauro Lucco in his 1995 monograph) have accepted the painting as an early work of Giorgione himself, and it was exhibited as such at Castelfranco in 2010 (under the title ‘Saturn in Exile’). Elena Greer and Nicholas Penny (June 2010 Burlington Magazine) argue that it is by the same artist as the Judgement of Solomon in the Uffizi, but deny that this artist is Giorgione; they tentatively suggest Giovanni Agostino da Lodi.
London. Hampton Court.
Shepherd with a Pipe. Canvas, 61 x 51.
Recorded (as by Giorgione) in the collection of Charles I. The youth’s broad face and cast of feature, flowing hair and introspective expression are like those of the Boy with an Arrow in Vienna. The work was so highly regarded by Bernard Berenson that he used it as the frontispiece for his first book, The Venetian Painters of the Renaissance, published in 1894. However, much of the picture, including the face and hair, is old restoration. Generally accepted until recently as a very damaged original Giorgione, but now rejected by some writers (eg Jaynie Anderson in her 1996 Catalogue Raisonne). An attribution to the young Titian was suggested by John Shearman in his 1983 catalogue of the early Italian paintings in the Royal Collection, and it was as a very early Titian of about 1510-15 that the painting was exhibited in 2007-8 at the Queen’s Gallery and in 2016 at the Royal Academy.
Madonna with St Anthony and St Roch. Canvas, 92 x 133.
This small altarpiece is first certainly recorded in 1657, when in Francisco de los Santo’s Description of the Escorial it is attributed to ‘Bordonon’ (possibly a corruption of ‘Zorzon’ but for a long time interpreted as Pordenone). The attribution to Giorgione was made by Morelli in 1893. The main rival candidate, now favoured by the majority of critics, is the young Titian. A third possibility is the obscure Domenico Mancini – whose only certain work, a signed and dated Virgin Enthroned with an Angel of 1511 in the cathedral at Lendinara, has some marked similarities with the Prado picture.
Oxford. Ashmolean Museum.
Virgin and Child ('Tallard Madonna'). Wood, 76 x 60.
The Madonna reads to the Infant, who is seated on a cushion on the parapet. Above the weed-covered wall on the left, there is a view of the Piazzetta of St Mark’s as seen from the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. The Doge's Palace, the clock tower and the two columns on the Molo are clearly visible; the campanile appears without its bell-gable, which collapsed in 1489 and was reconstructed in1511-14. The picture is first recorded in 1756, when it was sold (as by Giorgione) with the collection of the Duc de Tallard in Paris. It was bought (as by Cariani) by the Ashmolean Museum in 1949 from Earl Cathcart. The picture, which had often been associated with the so-called ‘Allendale Group’, was reattributed by the museum to Giorgione on the authority of James Byam Shaw. The attribution has been accepted by a substantial segment of subsequent opinion, usually with a very early dating. Dissenting voices have included Bernard Berenson (who favoured Cariani) and Jaynie Anderson (who, in her 1996 monograph, saw the hand of a 'young painter trained in the studio of Bellini but familar with the new fashionable style, the style of Giorgione in about 1506'). The young Sebastiano del Piombo has probably now replaced Cariani as the favourite alternative to Giorgione. The blue of the Virgin’s mantle has deteriorated.
Paris. Fête Champêtre. Canvas, 110 x 138.
The subject, attribution and early history of this famous picture are all uncertain. The subject has been interpreted as mythological (eg Apollo, in the red doublet, instructing the shepherd Paris in the arts of music), as an allegory (eg of poetry or of aristocratic and lowly love), or as an Arcadian caprice with no specific theme. Until the nineteenth century, the picture was always regarded as a typical work of Giorgione. Then the old attribution was questioned by Waagen (who proposed Palma Vecchio), Crowe and Cavalcaselle (‘an imitator of Sebastiano del Piombo’) and Lafenestre, who in 1886 suggested Titian. While a few distinguished critics (including Morelli and Berenson) continued to hold to Giorgione, the picture was more and more frequently given to Titian. Recently, the tide may have turned again, with some current opinion (including that of Jaynie Anderson in her 1996 monograph) inclining towards Giorgione. The picture is often, but unreliably, said to have had a Gonzaga provenance. It was certainly owned by the German banker Everhard Jabach, who was forced to sell his famous collection to Louis XIV in 1671.
Pasadena (California). Norton Simon Museum.
Portrait of a Courtesan. Canvas (transferred from panel), 32 x 24.
The alluring young woman, bust-length and near-profile, draws a striped shawl over (or off) her left shoulder. Though usually called a portrait of a courtesan, it could conceivably be a small fragment of a large narrative composition. Attributed to Giorgione by the museum, but often considered a youthful work of Titian. Previously in the collection of Lord Melchett, it was acquired by Norton Simon (through Duveen) in 1964.
Rome. Palazzo di Venezia.
Double Portrait. Canvas, 80 x 68.
The young man resting his head on his hand holds a small orange (melangola), perhaps symbolising the bitter-sweetness of love. The boy looking over his shoulder is more humbly dressed and is probably his servant. This intriguing portrait was ascribed to Giorgione in 1624, when it is recorded in an inventory of the possessions of Cardinal Carlo Emanuele Pio of Savoy, and in 1663, when it is recorded in the Ludovisi collection in Rome. By 1734 it had entered the collection of Tommaso Ruffo at Ferrara, where it was attributed to Dosso Dossi. It was still attributed to Dosso Dossi in 1919, when it was donated by Fabrizio Ruffo to the Palazzo Venezia. The traditional attribution to Giorgione was revived in 1927 by Roberto Longhi. It has been supported by a number of subsequent critics, but has not won general acceptance. Other attributions – to Sebastiano del Piombo, the shadowy Domenico Mancini and the Veronese Francesco Torbido – have also failed to win general support. Exhibited at Washington and Vienna in 2006 simply as a work of about 1510-20 by a follower of Giorgione. But exhibited at Padua in 2013 (Pietro Bembo e l'invenzione del rinascimento) with an outright attribution to Giorgione and a very early dating of around 1502.
San Diego. Fine Arts Society.
Portrait of a Man ('Terris Portrait'). Wood, 30 x 26.
Known as the ‘Terris Portrait’ after a former owner, Alexander Terris of London. The attribution to Giorgione was first published by George Martin Richter in his 1937 monograph on the painter. It is based partly on the style of the portrait and partly on a fragmentary sixteenth-century inscription on the back, which has been deciphered as ’15?? man de M. Zorzi da Castel Franco’. The date has been variously read as 1506, 1508 or 1510, but 1506 is perhaps most likely. Attempts to identify the sitter as the doctor Gian Giacomo Bartototti (on the basis of a resemblance to Titian’s ‘Portrait of the Physician Parma’ in Vienna) or as the German merchant Christoph Fugger (on the basis of a resemblance to a portrait by Dürer at Nuremberg) have not gained acceptance. Given to the San Diego museum (as a self-portrait by Giorgione) in 1941. The flesh parts are somewhat worn (with particular damage to the nose). Evidence has been recently found of an earlier drawing on the panel depicting a pastoral scene with three figures.
St Petersburg. Hermitage.
Judith. Canvas (transferred from panel), 144 x 65.
The idealised beauty rests her right hand on the hilt of a broad sword and gazes pensively down at the head of Holofernes (conceivably Giorgione’s self-portrait), lying beneath her bare foot. Acquired by Catherine II of Russia in 1772 with the Crozat collection. Engraved in the seventeenth century as a Raphael, and it retained this attribution until Waagen, author of the Hermitage catalogue of 1864, gave it to Moretto da Brescia. The attribution to Giorgione was made by Morelli (who knew the picture only from a photograph); it is now general. It was previously assumed (on the evidence of an engraving made when the picture was in the Crozat collection) that the narrow panel has been cut down by about 12 cm. on each side. However, it appears that the panel was enlarged in the early eighteenth century and returned to its original size after it was acquired for the Hermitage. It may originally have served as the door of a built-in cupboard: a small dark square on the wall on the right indicates where the keyhole once was. It appears to be less damaged than many transferred pictures, though there are paint losses at the edges, in the foreground and on the trunk of the tree. Careful restoration in 1968-71, removing dirty varnish and old repaint, revealed the rich luminous colour and the expanse of blue sky (formerly taken for a bay) in the left distance.
Virgin and Child in a Landscape. Canvas (transferred from panel), 44 x 37.
The pose of the Virgin, holding a closed book in her left hand, is similar to that of the Madonna at Oxford. Acquired by the Hermitage in 1817 from a court physician called Kreiton. Attributed at first to the Ferrarese artist Garofalo and later catalogued as a work of Francesco Bissolo, a pupil of Giovanni Bellini. An attribution to Giorgione, as an early work, was first published in 1895 by Claude Phillips in the British journal Magazine of Art, and was repeated by the German art historian Ludwig Justi in his 1908 monograph. The attribution has continued to attract some support, although there have been many doubters (including Berenson, who gave both the St Petersburg and Oxford paintings to Cariani). Included as an early Giorgione in the major exhibitions at Venice in 1955, Paris in 1993 and Castelfranco in 2010. The poor condition of the little painting, which was transferred from panel in 1872, makes its quality hard to judge. The landscape is particularly restored.
Tempest. Canvas, 68 x 59.
A thunder storm breaks over the little town, and a woman, naked except for a wrap over her shoulders, nurses her child. She is watched by a fancily-dressed young man, traditionally supposed to be a soldier or a shepherd. X-rays have revealed the ghost of another figure, a bathing woman, under his feet. There have been many interpretations of the subject, including King Adrastus discovering Hypsipyle suckling Opheltes, the Birth of Apollo, Adam and Eve, an Allegory of Strength, Charity and Fortune (symbolised respectively by the broken pillars, the suckling of the child and the storm), an allegory of the forces of nature, an allegory of the recapture of Padua by Venice from the Imperial troops in 1509, and Jupiter appearing as a thunderbolt to Iasion and Ceres. None of these interpretations has found much support; and it is possible that the picture is merely a caprice, a ‘landscape of mood’, without any specific meaning. It is almost certainly the ‘small landscape on canvas … with the storm, and the gipsy and soldier’ seen by Marcantonio Michiel in 1530 in the Casa Gabriele Vendramin. It is recorded again, after a gap of almost three centuries, in the Manfrin collection under the title ‘The Family of Giorgione’ (later ‘Mercury and Isis’). It was acquired by Prince Giuseppe Giovanelli for 27,000 lire in 1875 after the authorities had refused to allow its export to the Berlin museum, and was bought from his heirs for 5 million lire by the Accademia in 1932.
La Vecchia (‘Col Tempo’). Canvas, 68 x 59.
This unsparingly realistic picture takes its popular name from the inscription (‘with time’) on the scroll held by the old woman, and offers the obvious moral message that youth turns into age. It has been identified with ‘the portrait of Giorgione’s mother, in the master’s own hand, provided by him and adorned with the Vendramin heraldic arms’ recorded in a 1569 inventory of the Vendramin collection. The 1601 Vendramin inventory adds that the picture had a cover featuring a portrait of a man dressed in black fur (or leather). The family’s coat-of-arms appear on the old frame. The picture was bought by the Accademia in 1856 from the Manfrin collection, which also included the Tempest. It had various attributions (Torbido, Cariani, Titian). The attribution to Giorgione was first advanced by Antonio della Rovere in 1903. It attracted little serious support for some decades, but was taken up again by Berenson (1932-57 Lists) and, following the discovery of the Vendramin inventories, has now become generally accepted. The picture is often thought to date from near the end of Giorgione's short career. The male portrait that formed the cover has not been traced.
Fresco fragment. 250 x 140.
This ruined and restored fragment, approximately half a female nude, was detached from the main façade of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi in 1937. Another fragment of Giorgione’s frescoes, representing Cupid Disguised as an Angel, is thought to have been acquired by John Ruskin in Venice in about 1876. It was bought at Christie’s by Sir Kenneth Clark in 1926, and is now at Saltwood Castle. Some fragments of Titian’s frescoes from the side façade of the Fondaco, over the Merceria, are displayed in the Ca d’Oro. The Fondaco, near the Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal and now the Post Office, burnt down on 28 January 1505 and was subsequently rebuilt. The frescoes were finished by December 1508, when Lazzaro Bastiani, Vittore Carpaccio and Vettore di Matteo valued them at 150 ducats (Giorgione was paid 130 ducats). They were already in decay in Vasari’s time. The most complete idea of their appearance is given by etchings made by Antonio Zanetti in 1760 – though large sections of the frescoes were already missing by then.
Venice. Scuola Grande di San Rocco.
Christ carrying the Cross. Canvas, 68 x 88.
Probably the picture mentioned in a document of 25 March 1508, which records that Jacopo di Zuanne requested permission from the Scuola di San Rocco to commission an altarpiece from Giorgione for a small chapel dedicated to the Cross in the church of San Rocco. An engraving of 1520 shows that it was framed in a marble tabernacle with a lunette (now lost) of the Eternal Father. It was reputed to work miracles and, according to Vasari, ‘received in alms more crowns than Titian and Giorgione ever earned in all their lives’. This may account for its very worn condition. Vasari attributed the picture to Giorgione in both the 1550 and 1568 editions of his Lives, but also gave it to Titian in his 1568 Titian Life (adding that ‘many people have thought this panel was by Giorgione’). (A possible explanation for the contradiction is that Giorgione’s Life was printed in 1565 and Titian’s in 1567, after Vasari had visited Venice.) Opinion remains divided on the question of ‘late Giorgione’ or ‘early Titian’.
Venice. Seminario Patriarcale.
Apollo and Daphne. Wood, 64 x 130.
On the right, Daphne is pursued by Apollo and about to be transformed into a laurel tree. The panel has been cut down on the left, where Apollo was probably shown killing Python. This charming panel is often assumed to have been a cassone front, but it might alternatively have decorated some other piece of furniture or some panelling in a room. The picture was first given to Giorgione by Giovanni Morelli, whose attribution was endorsed by a substantial segment of late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century opinion. Bernard Berenson included the picture on his first list of Giorgione's works (published in the 1894 edition of his Venetian Painters) and also, more than sixty years later, on his last list (published in the 1957 edition). However, the majority of critics have preferred to seek an alternative author. The suggestions have included Giovanni Cariani, Andrea Schiavone, the young Titian, Paris Bordone and, perhaps most often, an anonymous Giorgionesque painter. The gallery presently calls the picture simply Sequace Giorgionesco, 1510-15.
Vienna. Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Three Philosophers. Canvas, 123 x 144.
The ‘canvas … with three philosophers … finished by Sebastiano’ seen by Michiel in 1525 in the Casa Taddeo Contarini. Next recorded in 1659 in Archduke Leopold Wilhelm’s gallery in Vienna. At the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth, the picture was often called ‘Evander showing Aeneas the Site of Rome’ after Franz Wickhoff’s interpretation of the subject in 1895. The idea (first recorded in a 1783 inventory) that the three men are the Magi was revived by Wilde (1932) but has also been rejected by most recent writers. Other theories are: that the picture represents different schools of contemporary philosophy (the old man representing the Aristotelian, the turbaned man that of Averroes, and the seated youth that of natural science); that it is an allegory of the decline of religion (with the three figures representing Moses, Muhammad and the Antichrist); that it represents the education of philosophers as described in Plato’s Republic with its famous parable of the cave; and that it depicts the three early Greek philosophers Pythagoras of Samos (the seated youth), Thales of Miletus (the old man) and Pherecydes of Syros (in the turban). The picture has been cut down on the left, losing some of the rock that Michiel describes as ‘imitated so marvellously’. Modern writers have almost unanimously agreed that the painting looks like the work of only one artist, casting doubt on Michiel’s testimony that it was finished by Sebastiano del Piombo. Charles Hope has dissented from this view, claiming recently that 'it would be more consistent with the evidence to suppose that the picture was designed by Giorgione and largely painted by Sebastiano, perhaps after Giorgione's death' (London Review of Books, March 2016).
Portrait of a Lady (‘Laura’). Canvas, 41 x 34.
Much abraded and cut down at the bottom, removing much of the left arm in the fur-lined red sleeve. In the eighteenth century, the canvas was cut down into an oval; additions were later made to return it to a rectangular shape. Since the seventeenth century the portrait has been called ‘Laura’. It is uncertain whether the subject is Petrarch’s muse, whether it is a portrait of someone called Laura (with the laurel branches behind her a play on her name), whether the laurel is to suggest a poetess (eg. one of the poet-courtesans such as Tullia d’Aragona or Veronica Franco), or whether the laurel stands for chastity and the picture represents a bride. The portrait was labelled as by Giorgione in one of David Tenier’s paintings of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm’s gallery (now in the Prado), but in the nineteenth century it was attributed to Boccaccio Boccaccino or Romanino. The re-attribution to Giorgione, as perhaps his best authenticated picture, followed the discovery of a very faint contemporary inscription in Italian on the back, which reads: ‘On the first of June 1506 this was finished by the hand of Master Giorgio of Castelfranco, colleague of Master Vincenzo Catena on the instruction of Massire Giacomo …’ It is the only picture by Giorgione that can be reliably dated.
Boy with an Arrow. Wood, 48 x 42.
One of Giorgione’s most Leonardesque works. Not a portrait: the subject could be the young Apollo, Eros (holding the arrow of love) or Paris (who killed Achilles with an arrow). In 1663, when it was first recorded in the ducal collection at Innsbruck, it was ascribed to Andrea del Sarto. In the 1783 catalogue of the Vienna gallery it was given to Schedone and in the 1837 catalogue to the school of Correggio. It was first linked to Giorgione in 1903 by Gustav Ludwig, who identified it as the picture of a ‘youth, half length, holding an arrow’ noted by Michiel. Michiel records two pictures of this subject: one in 1531 in the house of Zuanne Ram, a Catalan merchant who also owned a picture by Giorgione of a shepherd boy holding a fruit, and the other in 1532 in the house of Antonio Pasqualino. Michiel himself was unsure whether the picture owned by Ram was an original or a copy. The Vienna picture, which was cleaned to advantage in 1995, is now often accepted as Giorgione’s original.
Portrait of a Soldier. Canvas, 72 x 57.
The sitter resembles the young man on the right of the Pitti Three Ages. He is shown behind a parapet, half-length and in profile, wearing armour and crowned with a wreath. An older man on the right (formerly hidden by repaint and uncovered by cleaning in 1955) puts his hand on his wrist. This very damaged picture has sometimes been identified with the ‘portrait of Girolamo Marcello armed, showing his back down to his waist and turning his head’ noted by Michiel in 1525 in Girolamo Marcello’s house or with the ‘half-length figure of a soldier armed but not wearing a helmet’ noted by Michiel in 1528 in the house of Zuanantonio Venier. Paul Joannides (Titian to 1518 (2001)) doubts whether the picture is a portrait and suggests that it could illustrate Plutarch’s story of the homosexual assault on the virtuous youth Trebonius, who killed his assailant and was crowned with a garland for his valour. (Plutarch’s story has also been proposed as the subject of Titian’s Bravo, also at Vienna.) In Leopold Wilhelm’s collection, where it was engraved as a Giorgione in 1658. Comparison with the engraving shows that the canvas has been cut down significantly on all four sides.
Adoration of the Shepherds. Wood, 92 x 115.
An unfinished (and rather damaged) replica of the Nativity, now generally regarded as an early work of Giorgione, at Washington. It has usually been ascribed to a follower of Giorgione, and sometimes to the young Titian. On the basis that it could be another version begun by Giorgione himself, it has been speculatively identified with the Nocte (‘Night’), ‘not very finished’, mentioned in a letter by Taddeo Albano to Isabella d’Este on 8 November 1510. One of the paintings sold by Bartolomeo della Nave to Sir Basil Fielding in about 1636 and acquired by Archduke Leopold Wilhelm from the Duke of Hamilton’s collection after the English Civil War.
Boy with a Helmet. Canvas (transferred from panel), 73 x 64.
The boy's face is dimly reflected in the top of the helmet. The helmet – a gleaming black sallet – is decorated with a wreath of golden oak leaves and acorns. Oak leaves and acorns frequently decorated Della Rovere armour, and the portrait – which came from Urbino – almost certainly represents a member of that family or its court. The young sitter, called Guidobaldo della Rovere in an old inventory, is often now identified as Francesco Maria della Rovere, who was born in 1490, became Duke of Urbino in 1508, and pursued a successful career as a condottiere. This identification seems to imply a dating for the portrait of around 1500-5, which would be early for Giorgione or an artist in his circle. Recorded in the Ducal collection at Urbino in 1623-4, the portrait passed into the collection of the wealthy Venetian merchant Bartolomeo della Nave. It was among some two hundred paintings sold by Della Nave's heirs to the Duke of Hamilton and then acquired by Archduke Leopold Wilhelm during the English Civil War. Having been attributed to Raphael and then to Correggio in Hamilton's inventories, the portrait was engraved in the 1660 catalogue of Archduke Leopold's collection as a work of Palma Vecchio. It retained the Palma attribution well into the nineteenth century (when the sitter was called 'Gaston de Foix'). Attributions have been subsequently made to a variety of major and minor painters – including Bernardo Licinio (proposed by Crowe and Cavalcaselle in 1871), Pellegrino da San Daniele (Morelli in 1893), Michele da Verona (Berenson in 1932), Giorgione (Suida in 1935) and Sebastiano del Piombo (Pallucchini in 1944). The gallery favours 'attributed to Giorgione'. The portrait was included in the Age of Giorgione exhibition, held at the Royal Academy in 2016, but with an attribution to Sebastiano.
Washington. National Gallery.
Nativity. Wood, 91 x 110.
Sometimes identified as one of two Nocti (‘Nocturnes’ – though it is not actually a night scene), one painted for Taddeo Contarini and the other for Vittore Beccaro, which Isabella d’Este was anxious to secure and are mentioned in an exchange of letters in October-November 1510 with Taddeo Albano, her agent in Venice. The picture’s history can be positively traced back only to 1841, when Cardinal Fesch’s collection was sold. From 1847, the painting was in England in the Beaumont and Allendale collections, and it is often still known as the ‘Beaumont’ or ‘Allendale’ Nativity. Bought by Duveen in 1937 for 60,000 guineas from Baron Allendale, and sold to Kress the following year for $516,000. It has had many attributions (Catena, Cariani, Bonifazio, Bellini, an assistant of Giorgione under the influence of Bellini, and Titian). The rift between Lord Duveen and Berenson over the attribution (the latter insisting on an attribution to Titian and the former wanting to sell the painting at a higher price as an Giorgione) is the subject of Simon Gray’s play The Old Masters (2004). In recent years there has been increasing agreement in favour of a return to the traditional attribution to Giorgione. It has been dated both early and late in the artist’s short career. The small figures on the left are probably a later addition, and do not appear in an old unfinished copy (sometimes ascribed to Giorgione or his studio) at Vienna.
Holy Family. Wood, 37 x 46.
Possibly the ‘Virgin and Child and St Joseph, Mantuan collection’ recorded, with an attribution to Giorgione, in an inventory of James II’s collection. But first certainly recorded only in 1887, when it was bought by Henry Willett (philanthropist, collector and friend of Ruskin) from a Brighton picture dealer. From 1894, it was in the London collection of Robert and Evelyn Benson, and it is still sometimes known as the ‘Benson Holy Family’. Sold with the Benson collection to Duveen in 1927, and acquired by Kress in 1949. It has usually been attributed either to Giorgione or Catena, and occasionally to Cariani. In recent years the attribution to Giorgione, as a very early work (about 1500?), has become more generally accepted. The figures, especially the elderly Joseph, recall those of Giovanni Bellini.
Giovanni Borgherini and His Tutor. Canvas, 47 x 61.
The tutor (Niccolò Leonico Tomeo?) holds an armillary sphere. The scroll curling round the handle is inscribed with the Latin motto ‘Talent has no worth unless accomplishment follows’. The young pupil holds a paintbrush, quill pen, pair of compasses and a flute. The portrait is identified with one seen by Vasari in the house in Florence of the sons of Giovanni Borgherini of ‘Giovanni himself painted when he was a young man in Venice, which also shows Giovanni’s tutor …’ It was acquired in 1923 or 1925 by Sir Herbert Cook, who wrote an article about it in the January 1926 Burlington Magazine. He is said to have got it from ‘a gentleman in Milan whose great grandfather received it from a great-nephew of Cavaliere Pierfrancesco Borgherini’. Given to the National Gallery in 1974 by Michael Straight, who had bought it in 1960 from Agnew. In spite of its (alleged) provenance, the painting has not won general acceptance as Giorgione’s original. Catalogued in 1979 as ‘Circle of Giorgione’ and later as ‘Attributed to Giorgione’. It is heavily repainted.